Ovechkin Scores Winner In OT

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal six seconds into overtime. (Erik S. Lesser - Reuters)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006

ATLANTA, Dec. 15 -- The Friday night fight fest many were expecting did not materialize. What the near sell-out crowd at Philips Arena witnessed instead was one of the season's most dramatic comebacks.

Unfortunately for Atlanta Thrashers fans, it was Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals who skated off with a 3-2 overtime victory, their first over the Southeast Division leaders in five tries this season.

Ovechkin scored all of the Capitals's goals, including the game-tying tally with 31 seconds remaining in regulation and the winner six seconds into the extra session.

"I just try to shoot the puck and score goals and today I have luck," the 21-year-old left wing said. "It was very important for us to win this game after [the] Pittsburgh game. Today we play very well [for] three periods."

Ovechkin was referring to Monday's shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, during which the Capitals blew a 4-0 lead. There had been some question about how long it would take to rebound from that crushing defeat.

"I'm proud of my guys," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "It was a solid team win. After the Pittsburgh game, if there was ever a chance to sort of let down a bit, we came back and played our best game of the year, without a doubt."

Although the night ended with Ovechkin celebrating face down on the ice, and loud music blaring from the visitors' locker room, it almost went the other way.

Thashers winger Jean-Pierre Vigier beat Capitals backup goaltender Brent Johnson (28 saves) between the pads with a routine looking shot with 5 minutes 55 seconds remaining in regulation to put Atlanta ahead 2-1.

But Vigier's hero status didn't last long. He was sent to the penalty box for delaying the game by flipping the puck over the Plexiglas with 1:19 left in regulation.

With Johnson on the bench and six Capitals attackers on the ice, Ovechkin fired the puck between Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen's pads to tie the game at 2. Dainius Zubrus set up the play with a slick pass to Ovechkin, who was camped out in the slot.

Then, off the face-off at center ice to start overtime, Ovechkin picked off a pass, beat Thrashers defenseman Shane Hnidy into the Atlanta zone and blasted the puck over Lehtonen, who made 30 saves.

"Ovechkin never ceases to surprise us," Hanlon said. "He found some space, and it reminded us a bit of the goal he scored in Anaheim last year. He was focused to score."

Ovechkin's other hat trick also was capped by an overtime winner on Jan. 13 against the Ducks; that game also finished 3-2.

Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers had won the previous four meetings against the Capitals this season, including the much-publicized, fight-marred contest at Verizon Center on Nov. 22.

In that game, 176 minutes in penalties were handed out, including 10 fighting majors and seven game misconducts.

None of that occurred Friday.

The first period did, however, feature plenty of hard hits, and at least one near fight. Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear, who was booed each time he touched the puck on his first few shifts, tangled with Hnidy, shoving him twice in the chest. But Hnidy didn't bite. Brashear was sent off for roughing, negating what would have been a Washington power play.

It didn't matter.

Ovechkin made it 1-0 at 8:55 on the power play when he blasted a cross ice pass from Zubrus over Lehtonen's blocker.

The scored stayed that way until 11:08, when Jonathan Sim beat Johnson between the pads. Kovalchuk set up the score with a perfectly-placed pass to Sim.

Kovalchuk also delivered the game's biggest blow. With about 2:30 remaining in the opening period, he leveled Matt Pettinger with a clean open-ice hit near the Capitals's bench. Pettinger was slow to get up but remained in the game.

Late in the second period, it appeared Vigier had scored his team's second goal, but it was disallowed because Eric Boulton was ruled to have interfered with Johnson. Vigier made ended up getting Atlanta's second goal anyway.

"We can say that we are leaving with a point, but that's not acceptable and not good enough," Thrashers Coach Bob Hartley said. "That's a loser's mentality. I feel we lost a point."

Capitals Notes: Richard Zednik underwent surgery last week to repair a groin muscle tear he suffered Dec. 2 against Buffalo, General Manager George McPhee said. The veteran right wing, who had five goals and eight assists in 20 games, will be sidelined for at least five weeks. It's the same type of surgery former Capitals winger Jeff Friesen had a year ago, McPhee said. Matt Bradley (hand) was out while Bryan Muir was a healthy scratch. Defenseman Jamie Heward, who had missed the previous five games because of facial lacerations, was hit on the chin by a puck and required about 10 stitches.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company